“I sat thinking how terribly sad it was that people are made in such a way that they get used to something as incredible as living. One day we suddenly take the fact that we exist for granted - and then, yes, then we don’t think about it anymore until we are about to leave the world again."
This beautiful quote is from Jostein Gaarder’s novel ‘The Solitaire Mystery.’
I hail from Shillong a beautiful town in the north eastern part of India. Of the many beautiful places in this small town there is one exclusive to its residents - The State Central Library. This is a place I used to frequent during my school days. I had started off with reading Enid Blyton’s novels but with time I grew into reading novels from many other genres. However, ‘The Solitaire Mystery’ was just a by-chance novel. I was in a hurry to pick up a Book and the word mystery in its title just intrigued me.
But, this book just opened up a different world to me altogether. After almost 15 years I went through a quote of Jostein Gaarder’s in some forum and recalled reading his book. I bought the book online this time and went through it again. I would agree that at that point of time when I had first read the book, I was not able to appreciate its minute details. Though I had liked the book then too, but this time I was more appreciable and would suggest it as a must read.
The novel contains two parallel stories. Hans Thomas and his father are travelling through Europe to get back the boy’s estranged mother. While on the road they visit a cafe from which Hans gets a sticky bun. In the bun he finds a very small book with miniscule writings. Before this event, a bearded man had handed Thomas a magnifying glass at a gas station saying that he would need it. Hans wonders if both these events were connected. He uses this magnifying glass to read the book.
The book tells the story of an old baker who was given a wonderful drink called ‘The Rainbow Fizz’ by his grandfather that makes him ecstatic. This drink the baker’s grandfather had obtained from an island where he had arrived because of a shipwreck. In the island dwelled an old sailor with 53 other people who were not identified by names but as numbers from a playing card deck. Hans, who is reading this book is particularly intrigued by the character of the Queen of Hearts. He finds her persona striking a resemblance to his own mother’s.
The two stories then start crossing path and Hans is bewildered at the stark similarity in which the story and his life were drawing a parallel. He is confused because the book ending up with him was not something planned and had happened because of a random stop that they had taken at the cafe. This book addresses a very fundamental question of finding ourselves - an age old question that has led many people astray.
Overall, this is one of those books which gives you a different perspective to life. Here, I end my book review with one of the many quotes by Jostein Gaarder from this book itself - “Although you may not stumble across a Martian in the garden, you might stumble across yourself. The day that happens, you'll probably also scream a little. And that'll be perfectly all right, because it's not every day you realize you're a living planet dweller on a little island in the universe.”